Formation Stages

How does one become a Benedictine nun? There are various stages:

Getting acquainted: a young woman comes to experience our way of life, she visits the community, initially staying in our retreat house and then coming inside the enclosure for a closer look. This stage is called aspirancy, and has to last for a year before a candidate can enter the monastery as a postulant

Postulancy: the period of postulancy is usually one year. The purpose of this period is for the candidate to be initiated into the monastic life gradually before making the step of becoming a novice.

Novitiate:  begins with a ceremony in which the postulant receives the monastic habit and receives a new name.  It is two-year period of formation in human virtue and the monastic life.  Topics of study for postulants and novices include monastic history, monastic and religious life, the Holy Rule, the psalms, Scripture, chant and Latin, and an introduction to doctrine. They also take part in the work of the monastery.  For St Benedict the concern should be whether the novice is “truly seeking God.”

First Profession: if the community votes to accept her, the young nun professes simple vows. This stage usually lasts five years, during which a young nun gradually assumes more responsibility in the community.

Solemn or perpetual vows: when she gives her whole self to Christ in the monastery.  St Benedict says that the monk, when he makes his vows, is to place his vow chart on the altar at the Offertory, to be offered along with the sacrifice of Christ, to the Father.  So in a very real sense, the daily offering of the Mass is a renewal of our self-offering at monastic profession.

Our vows are the three Benedictine vows of obedience, conversion of life and stability for three years (consecrated celibacy and religious poverty are included in the vow of conversion of life). The whole meaning of our vocation is summed up in these three vows. Stability, the Benedictine “speciality” is about a lasting commitment to one monastic family; it is about rootedness. We give ourselves to God in a particular way of life, in a particular place, with particular companions, knowing that in this life is our way to God. By the vow of conversion of life, we undertake to live out the monastic life according to the Rule; it is a commitment to a lifelong process of being transformed as we follow Christ. Finally, obedience, which is freely chosen and springs from love for God. Read more on the Benedictine Vows page.

“Are you now alarmed by the immensity of what the holy vows require of you?  You need not be alarmed.  What you have promised is indeed beyond your own weak human power.  But it is not beyond the power of the Almighty – this power will become yours if you entrust yourself to Him, if He accepts your pledge of troth.  He does so on the day of your holy profession and will do it anew today. 

It is the loving heart of your Saviour that invites you to follow.  It demands your obedience because the human will is blind and weak.  It cannot find the way until it surrenders itself entirely to the divine will.  He demands poverty because hands must be empty of earth’s goods to receive the goods of heaven.  He demands chastity because only the heart detached from all earthly love is free for the love of God.  The arms of the Crucified are spread out to draw you to His heart.  He wants your life in order to give you His.”

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), d. Auschwitz, 1942